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'Educating Rita" is dramatically effective in many ways. It is also
recognised as an exceptional play; it was voted "Best comedy of the
year" when performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980, and
just three years after release, it had become the fourth most popular
play in Britain. There are obviously factors which make it so
effective, and I intend to explore these factors.
Throughout the play, there are only two characters: this is known as a
two-hander. Other characters are only mentioned in the play, but in
the film have been cast as parts. It worked well for the film, but I
think it lost the closeness which plays such an important part in the
theatre. Some people would find this to be tedious, but I think it
adds to the intensity and intimacy between the audience and the
There is a focus on the two characters which means that the audience
can appreciate the relationship between Rita and Frank which is
emphasised more than it would be with other characters, and would
notice any subtle changes that occur in the play. For example, when
Rita starts to use the correct form of speech for talking about
literature and uses a higher standard of English. You can see this in
Act I, Scene 4 when Frank and Rita were talking about her "Peer Gynt"
essay where her response was "Do it on the radio." Frank could not
believe what she had written as her entire essay, and in her defense
Rita says, "I didn't have much time this week, so I sort of, y'know,
encapsulated all me ideas in one line."
The audience familiarise with Frank and Rita and we can see more
closely what they are feeling and thinking because we know them
better. We understand that Rita feels that she is stuck in the lower
class and she wants to better herself by "changing from the inside"
and taking Literature classes. Frank is a tired, middle-aged man and
he can see that the world is passing by but he cannot be bothered to
do anything about it. He drinks to try and suppress this feeling:
"Life is such a rich and frantic whirl that I need the drink to help
me step delicately through it." Both characters are stuck in a rut,
but Rita wants to change her situation and is making the effort to
achieve that change.
We can also sympathise with Rita and Frank because of the closeness
between audience and characters, and so this can make otherwise
trivial circumstances seem more significant, such as when Rita
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her with an ultimatum - her mood has completely changed from how she
normally behaves; she is pensive and downcast. She left Denny because
she said she needed to carry on with her lessons, and this setback
only made her even more determined to continue. If we did not have the
intimacy that having a focus of only two characters provides, we would
not realise that this was an extremely important moment or fully
comprehend how great a change it was for her.
The beginnings and endings of scenes in "Educating Rita" are
particularly effective as they do not just drift on and off - the
endings especially are snapshot like and capture your attention.
In most of the earlier scenes, they mostly finish on humorous points.
For example, in Act I, Scene 2, Rita and Frank were discussing
Forster's "Howards End'. Rita tried to bring some humour into the
tutorial by saying, "Does Forster's repeated use of the phrase 'only
connect' suggest that he was really a frustrated electrician?....In
considering Forster it helps if we examine the thirteen amp plug....".
The immediate stage direction is Blackout. The same technique - of
humour, and then an instant blackout to end a scene - is used quite a
lot in the first act. Humour is also used for the opening of scenes,
for example the beginning of Act I, Scene 2. Frank is glancing at his
watch and is clearly agitated - we can see that Rita is late and we
wonder if she might not be coming. He then notices the door handle
being turned and, thinking that she is stuck on the other side of the
door, he opens it for her and discovers her on the other side with an
oilcan, oiling the handle. This shows her outgoing, confident
personality, and also her shrewdness: from just one meeting, she knows
enough about Frank to realise that he wouldn't have fixed the door
since last week.
In the second act, the scenes tend to finish more with poignant
moments, such as the conversations Frank and Rita had at the end of
Act II, Scene 4:
- "I understand now, Frank; I know the difference
between-between-Somerset Maugham an' Harold Robbins. An' you're still
treating me as though I'm hung up on 'Rubyfruit Jungle'. Just... You
understand, don't you Frank?"
- "Entirely, my dear."
- "I'm sorry."
- "Not at all. I got around to reading it, you know, 'Rubyfruit
Jungle. It's excellent."
- "Oh go way, Frank. Of its type it's quite interesting. But it's
Frank is trying to connect with Rita by reading the book that she once
told him was 'a fantastic book'. He realises that in its own class,
the book is good and he understands what she saw in it. However, Rita
now finds the book as Frank would have found it at the beginning -
'hardly excellence'. Frank and Rita have changed roles a bit now.
The playwright has chosen to use only one setting throughout; Frank's
study. This does not detract from the overall effect of the play as it
enables the audience to become very familiar with the setting and can
focus on the characters instead. Frank's study is the only place where
Frank and Rita meet and we can see their entire relationship which has
just been created to exist in this one room. The only way in which we
learn about the outside world is through Rita and Frank's
conversations, for example Rita telling Franks about Denny burning her
books. We become familiar with the layout and atmosphere of Frank's
room and it looks like nothing has been moved or changed much for
years. When even small changes are brought in, we notice them, such as
Rita wanting to open the windows and Frank telling her to leave it
shut. This symbolises the 'breath of fresh air' that Rita was bringing
into Frank's study and his life. At the beginning of Act II, Frank is
sitting typing poetry. He had given up writing poetry, but Rita has
obviously inspired or persuaded him to take it up again.
The film used many different settings, which added to the visual
interest which is vital for the medium of film, but the intensity of
focus which works so well in the theatre is lost.
One of the most important factors that make 'Educating Rita' so
brilliant is the sparkling language of the play. Willy Russell uses
humour and combines it with his sparkling script using two different
kinds of speech to present serious issues such as the role of women in
society, alcoholism and class stereotyping. However, a lot of the
humour exists simply to further the comedy., for example Act I, Scene
- Rita - why didn't you walk in here twenty years ago?
- Cos I don't think they'd have accepted me at the age of six.
This is effective because it involves the audience and makes it more
Towards the beginning of the play, the two different kinds of speech
were very apparent and clearly defined, for example, in Act I, Scene
Frank's speech is very formal and precise for talking about
Frank You must try to remember that criticism is purely objective. It
should be approached almost as a science. It must be supported by
reference to established literary critique. Criticism is never
subjective and should not be confused with partisan interpretation. In
criticism sentiment has no place.
Rita's speech is colloquial, informal, but very lively, vibrant and
Rita It's crap because the feller who wrote it was a louse. Because
halfway through that book I couldn't go on reading it because he, Mr
Bleedin' E. M. Forster says, quote "We are not concerned with the
poor" unquote. That's why it's crap. And that's why I didn't go on
reading it, that's why.
As the play progresses, the speech reverses as Rita picks up
expressions and the language for discussing literature and literary
criticism, and Frank's speech becomes more informal when he is talking
to Rita. We do not know whether he uses the same speech for talking to
others, as we only see him with Rita. A good example of this is when
Rita is discussing Frank's poetry:
Frank Just think if I'd let you see it when you first came here.
Rita I know. . . I wouldn't have understood it, Frank.
Frank You would have thrown it across the room and dismissed it as a
piece of shit, wouldn't you?
Rita I know. . . But I couldn't have understood it then, Frank,
because I wouldn't have been able to recognise and understand the
All these points make 'Educating Rita' dramatically effective as a